Test Automation Is Not Automatic

Recently while teaching a workshop on Testing Dirty Systems, I uttered this “Randyism” off the top of my head, “Test automation is not automatic.” I realized immediately that I had just concisely stated the problem in making test automation a reality in many organizations.

Most testers know that test automation is not automatic. (Wouldn’t it be great?) However, management many times does not know or accept that reality.

There are some test tools, such as unit test tools, that are practically automatically applied. My remarks in this article are aimed at the capture/playback and scripting tools for test automation.

The issues are that:

  • Not every test can or should be automated.
  • For those tests that can be automated, it takes time and effort to build the automation.
  • For those tests that have been automated, the tests must be maintained.
  • It takes time to lean how to use a tool.
  • It takes effort and planning to implement a test automation framework.

None of these are automatic, even with the best of tools.

Not every test can or should be automated

Think about the things you test that are not very repeatable. Or, they may be prone to constant change. Perhaps the things you test are developed in a technology that has little or no tool support.

Then, there are tests such as user acceptance tests that need people’s evaluation to judge acceptance.

Some tests require creativity and adaptation to perform. You may have to make judgments during the test, which may be too complex to describe in a script. Test automation leverages the mundane testing to give more time and attention to the unique tests.

Your job is to identify the tests that can be automated. (They don’t come labeled!) Then, you must understand the nature of the test, such as the pre-requisites, the steps to perform it, the exceptions, and where to find the expected results. None of this is automatic. It’s all test design and test implementation.

For those tests that can be automated, it takes time and effort to build the automation

It’s one thing to automate a function, but another to design a good test of the function. That’s why capture/playback is so appealing, yet lacking. The issues are: What are you testing in the capture session? Then, how can you extend those tests to add value?

You have to apply approaches like data-driven testing and keyword-driven testing, which take time and effort to understand and implement. These are not “out of the box” deliverables.

For those tests that have been automated, the tests must be maintained

This has been one of the consistent issues in test automation. There are things you can do to ease the maintenance burden, but it doesn’t do away with the issue.

For example, modular and reusable test scripts are very helpful in reducing the number of tests that must be maintained. Still, you must maintain the scripts you have.

This means you must know when the application has changed, what the changes were, and create new tests for those changes. This implies the presence of configuration management and traceability.

It takes time to learn how to use a tool

Of course, the learning curve varies by tool, but the fact remains that a tool with sophisticated features will take some time to learn. The learning curve also varies by person. Some people with deep experience in automation may be able to learn very fast, but when you consider the wider deployment, most people will fall on the lower end of the experience scale.

The time also varies by the approach used to get training. Some people try self-learning which is noble, but typically takes longer than classroom training. Mentoring from an experienced person may be the best approach.

You must assess your organization’s skills and abilities to know if mentoring will help. The best mentor in the world can’t help the person who isn’t ready to learn. Is that another “Randyism?”

It takes effort, money and planning to implement a test automation framework

The framework can take a variety of forms, but the context here is the organizational framework which provides a way to efficiently build and control test automation. Tools are only one-third of the picture. You also need processes with trained and motivated people to make everything work together.

Out of the box, tools are just software. A process framework helps with reuse and the maintenance of test automation.

Frameworks aren’t automatic, either. They must be adapted to fit each situation, therefore they require time, effort and funding to design and implement.

Conclusion

This article is certainly not an in-depth treatment of this topic. Entire books and training courses have been written to address these and other aspects of test automation.

I hope this expands on my simple statement “Test automation is not automatic” to provoke your own thinking on this reality.

For over twenty years now, I have seen a wide variety of test tool companies promote their tools as being effort-free, script-less, or however they choose to position their products. The evidence shows these are often empty claims. Just compare the numbers of people who have been successful in using test automation tools to those who have given up using the tools. It’s about 25% successful to 75% unsuccessful in my research.

I hope this article is an encouragement to those who have tried to implement test automation as well as to those who haven’t. It’s important to go into these projects with your eyes open and expectations at a realistic level. Once you get past the idea that the tools do all the work, you can do the planning and other work needed to increase your chances of success.

Randall Rice
Randy Rice is a thought leading author, speaker and practitioner consultant in the field of software testing and software quality. Rice has worked with organizations worldwide to improve the quality of their information systems and optimize their testing processes.

The Related Post

Automated Testing is a huge part of DevOps, but without human-performed quality assurance testing, you’re increasing the risk of  lower-quality software making it into production.  Automated Testing is an essential DevOps practice to increase organizations’ release cadence and code quality. But there are definitely limits to only using Automated Testing. Without human quality assurance (QA) ...
I’ve been teaching a lot lately, was in India for one week, and I’m off to Seattle in two weeks to teach on performance topics. I thoroughly enjoy teaching, it allows me to stay sharp with current trends, and provides a nice break from the “implementation focus” that I generally have day to day.
Cross-Browser Testing is an integral part of the Software Testing world today. When we need to test the functionality of a website or web application, we need to do so on multiple browsers for a multitude of reasons.
How to do UI test automation with the fewest headaches I’m currently interviewing lots of teams that have implemented acceptance testing for my new book. A majority of those interviewed so far have at some point shot themselves in the foot with UI test automation. After speaking to several people who are about to do ...
Introduction In many of the Test Automation projects that we are involved with using our Action-Based Testing methodology, management has expressed a need to relate tests and test results to system requirements. The underlying thought is that automation will create extra possibilities to control the level of compliance to requirements of the system under test. ...
TestArchitect TM is the name we have given to our automation toolset. It reflects the vision that automated testing requires a well-designed architectural plan allowing technical and non-technical elements to work fluidly in their capacity. It also addresses the continual missing link of all test automation tools of how to design tests. In TestArchitect the test ...
Elfriede Dustin of Innovative Defense Technology, is the author of various books including Automated Software Testing, Quality Web Systems, and her latest book Effective Software Testing. Dustin discusses her views on test design, scaling automation and the current state of test automation tools. LogiGear: With Test Design being an important ingredient to successful test automation, ...
The huge range of mobile devices used to browse the web now means testing a mobile website before delivery is critical.
Having the right Test Automation plan helps bridge gaps and fragmentations in the complex mobile environment. Figuring out the best Test Automation plan is one of the biggest frustrations for today’s digital teams. Organizations struggle to develop cross-platform Test Automation that can fit with their Continuous Integration cadence, their regression cycles and other elements of ...
In recent years, much attention has been paid to setting up Test Automation frameworks which are effective, easy to maintain, and allow the whole testing team to contribute to the testing effort. In doing so, we often leave out one of the most critical considerations of Test Automation: What do we do when the Test ...
The challenges with any automation effort is to know your capability. I’ve seen too many automation efforts begin and end with a tool decision. Generally these tools are very complex pieces of software that do many more things then we would ever use in our normal everyday testing. It even adds more misery to the ...
5 roadblocks in vehicular autonomy that complicate Software Testing Experts in the field have previously referred to air travel as somewhat of a gold standard for autonomous vehicle safety, but after Boeing’s two tragedies, that analogy can no longer be used when talking about self-driving cars. This was after Boeing’s 737 MAX Jets have found ...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Stay in the loop with the lastest
software testing news

Subscribe